Sunday, June 24, 2018

Project 366 - Die Romantiker

Project 366 continues in 2017-18 with "Time capsules through the Musical Eras - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

In this second installment of our time capsules exploring composers of the Romantic period, we will dwell on some of the German romantics.

Before I get going, I must apologize up front, as I may have skipped some of your favorite German romantic composers of the period – Robert Schumann, the Strauss family are among the omissions. In my defense, there are many Listener Guides from Part 1 of our series that provide examples from these composers.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)

Felix Mendelssohn was a German composer, pianist, musical conductor, and teacher, one of the most-celebrated figures of the early Romantic period. In his music Mendelssohn largely observed Classical models and practices while initiating key aspects of Romanticism—the artistic movement that exalted feeling and the imagination above rigid forms and traditions. He was a grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Among his most famous works are his incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826), five symphonies, many concertos, the oratorio Elijah, and several pieces of chamber music.

Listener Guide # 195 – Mendelssohn in London
The United Kingdom and the city of London in particular is the home of several world-class ensembles, from chamber orchestras to large-scale Symphonies. Two of these are featured in this time capsule which features two of Felix Mendelssohn’s most popular symphonic works: his Scottish Symphony and violin concerto. (ITYWLTMT Montage #273 – 9 March 2018)

More Mendelssohn in Listener Guides # 23, 25, 26, 48 & 82.

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Franz Liszt was a Hungarian pianist and composer of enormous influence and originality. He was renowned in Europe during the Romantic movement. By the time Liszt was 9 years old, he was performing in concert halls. As an adult, he toured extensively throughout Europe. By his death, he had written more than 700 compositions including many piano transcriptions, virtuoso piano works and even a few works for orchestra, with and without piano parts.

Listener Guide # 196 - En récital: Lortie & Liszt
As a recording artist, Louis Lortie has well-over 30 albums to his credit, most of them with the Chandos record label – music of Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel and Liszt are most noteworthy in his catalog. This Time Capsile features Lortie in Liszt’s Sonata in B Mino. (ITYWLTMT Montage #200, 29 May 2015)

More Liszt in Listener Guides # 79, 90& 92.

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)

Widely considered one the 19th century's greatest composers and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic era, Johannes Brahms was the great master of symphonic and sonata style in the second half of the 19th century. He can be viewed as the protagonist of the Classical tradition of Joseph Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. His output includes four symphonies, concerti, chamber music, piano works, and choral compositions.

Listener Guide # 197 - En récital: Kempff & Brahms
In spite of his great output as a composer, and in spite of the fact Brahms was known as an excellent pianist (and a close friendship with one of the greatest pianists of his time in Clara Schumann), his catalog doesn't offer much for the piano. There are (early) piano sonatas, sets of virtuoso variations and – of course – his 21 Hungarian Dances for piano 4-hands, but little else. We find a number of ballads, rhapsodies, two piano concertos and a handful of piano collections – sets of four to eight piano pieces or klavierstucke. (ITYWLTMT Montage #197 – 8 May 2015)

Listener Guide # 198 – Brahms Symphony #1

The Brahms 1st is, if I may say so, and “odd” symphony. Whether we believe it or not over 100 years later, Brahms was viewed as the heir to the Beethoven legacy, and as such there was much anticipation (and trepidation from the Composer) around what would be his first foray in the symphonic genre. Thus, the First took over 20 years to materialize. I often compare the ultimate unveiling if the Brahms 1st to “passing a kidney stone” – hard work, painful work, oh but what a relief when it finally happens. Notice the sense of drama in the first movement, culminating in the jubilation of the Fourth movement, with the well-recognized “tip of the hat” to Beethoven himself through the not-so-well disguised recast of the “ode to joy” melody. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 86 - 04 Jan, 2013)

Listener Guide # 199 – Brahms Symphony #2

The Brahms Second (along with the Second piano concerto and the violin concerto) are part of a very prolific period for Brahms which, not surprisingly, can find its root cause in the relief of having finally delivered his First Symphony. Generally, of the four symphonies, it is the one that strikes the most serene tone; think of it as Brahms’ version of the Pastoral symphony, but with much more brass. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #87 - 11 Jan 2013)

Listener Guide # 200 – Ein Deutsches Requiem

Roman Catholicism identifies the Requiem as a votive mass, intended for the dead, as a series of prayers and recitatives filled with images of the horrors of the Last Judgment. Martin Luther had a very different view of the Requiem ("For vigils and requiem masses and yearly celebrations of requiems are useless, and are merely the devil's annual fair."). As such, in the Lutheran tradition, there isn’t a Requiem mass, though funeral church services for the living are well within that tradition. So it is in that frame of mind that one must approach Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem” (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 94 - 1 Mar, 2013 )

More Brahms in Listener Guides # 32, 76 & 79.

Anton Bruckner (1824 – 1896)

Anton Bruckner, one of the most brilliant and admired composers of the nineteenth century, was known for symphonies, masses and motets, which even today continues to enamor its listeners. His exemplary Austro-German Romantic compositions are marked for their smooth and flowing harmonic language and polyphonic character. This eminent composer had an immense influence on the following generation of musicians — one of his friends, Gustav Mahler, even went on to describe him as ‘half simpleton, half god’. Though often his works, especially the symphonies in particular, received belittling remarks from influential Austrian critic, Eduard Hanslick and other devotees of Johannes Brahms, for their large size and use of repetition, they hardly succeeded in killing the spirit of this musical master. He along with his friend improvised and revived many of his works, which received immense appreciations.

Listener Guide # 201 – Bruckner Symphony #9

There is no debating that Bruckner had intended this to be his ninth “published” symphony. There are two other symphonies attributed to Bruckner, which were published after his death: a student symphony (numbered “00”) and another symphony in D Minor, which is often called “Die Nullte” or “the zeroth” which precedes the first chronologically and for which Bruckner wanted “a mulligan”. So, though there are 11 symphonies in total, the “curse” applies here, since this was meant to be his ninth and unfinished, leaving the last movement incomplete at the time of his death in 1896. Bruckner dedicated this symphony "to the beloved God" (in German, "dem lieben Gott"). (ITYWLTMT Podcast #165 - 19 Sept 2014)

More Bruckner in Listener Guides # 33.

Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)

Richard Strauss was a German Romantic composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His symphonic poems of the 1890s and his operas of the following decade have remained an indispensable feature of the standard repertoire.

Listener Guide # 202 – Sir Andrew Davis conducts Richard Strauss
The two principal works showcased in this Time Capsule are Strauss’ Four Last Songs, and Ein heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), which as a tone poem provides sections where the solo violin plays a key role. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #274 - 23 Mar 2018)

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)

Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler became popular in the late 19th century for his emotionally charged and subtly orchestrated symphonies. Mahler served as director for the Vienna Court Opera from 1897 to 1907. He later led the New York Metropolitan Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra. He wrote 10 symphonies during his career, which became popular for their 20th-century techniques and emotional character.

Listener Guide # 203 – Auferstehung

The genesis for the Resurrection symphony is a 1988 tone poem he called Todtenfeier (Funeral Rites). Leaving it for a few months to complete his Symphony No. 1, he finished his funeral piece in September of that year. By 1893 he had decided the piece was really part of a symphony--and he found he had ideas from previous compositions to apply to it. The third-movement scherzo is based on the theme from the song "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt" (Antony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish), written for Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The fourth is another song, "Urlicht" (Primal Light), that he used in its entirety, with voice, and withheld from the Wunderhorn collection. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 218 – 27 March 2016)

More Mahler in Listener Guides # 72, 99 & 108.

Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
Richard Wagner went on to become one of the world's most influential—and controversial—composers. He is famous for both his epic operas, including the four-part, 18-hour Ring Cycle. Wagner had a tumultuous love life, which involved several scandalous affairs, including one wih Liszt’s daughter, Cosima.

Listener Guides # 204-206 – Wagner: Tristan Und Isolde

Tristan took five years to compose with the bulk of the work between 1857 and 1859. Sections of the opera and libretto were composed in Switzerland and Italy, as Wagner’s 20-year marriage was disintegrating in large part because of his relationship with German poet and author Mathilde Wesendonck , the wife of a wealthy silk trader. (Once or Twice a Fortnight – 15 April 2017) [Synopsis and Libretto]

Act 1 (L/G 204) -
Act 2 (L/G 205) -
Act 3 (L/G 206) -

More Time Capsules

Listener Guide # 207 – Max Bruch (1838-1920)
Bruch had a long career as a teacher, conductor and composer, moving among musical posts in Germany: Mannheim (1862–1864), Koblenz (1865–1867), Sondershausen, (1867–1870), Berlin (1870–1872), and Bonn, where he spent 1873–78 working privately. At the height of his career he spent three seasons as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880–83). He taught composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik from 1890 until his retirement in 1910. His complex and unfailingly well-structured works, in the German Romantic musical tradition, placed him in the camp of Romantic classicism exemplified by Johannes Brahms, rather than the opposing "New Music" of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. In his time he was known primarily as a choral composer. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #193 - 10 Apr 2015)

Listener Guide # 208 – Dvořák’s New World Symphony
Dvorak scholars suggest that some of the themes found in the Ninth Symphony are based on native or African American music, as was for example Delius’ American Rhapsody. In fact, the haunting theme of the symphony’s famous “largo” movement was later adapted into the spiritual-like song "Goin' Home" by Dvořák's pupil William Arms Fisher, who wrote the lyrics in 1922, 30 some years after the symphony had been premiered. What is factual, however, is that an African-American National Conservatory student, Harry T. Burleigh, sang traditional spirituals to Dvořák and said that he had absorbed their `spirit' before writing his own melodies. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 164 - 12 Sept 2014)


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mahler - Symphonie-Orchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Rafael Kubelik ‎– Symphony #5

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This week’s Tuesday Blog, an edition of our ongoing series Vinyl’s Revenge, features Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. This, in s way, serves as a teaser for mire Mahler symphonies coming our way this Fall.

In past blog posts, I have made references to my favourite Mahler symphony cycles on record, and undoubtedly point to the excellent set recorded for DG by Rafael Kubelik and his Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the 1960’s and 70’s. In my vinyl collection, I own the first, second, fourth and today’s featured fifth – and own the entire set in my digital collection.

It would be somewhat presumptuous of me to dare provide a big hand, small map look at Mahler’s symphonies – a few years ago, there were posts by a fellow TC’er who provided very insightful comments on all of his symphonies. Suffice it to say that Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 and 7, which all belong to this period, have much in common and are markedly different from the first four, which all have strong links to vocal music – and in particular to Des Knaben Wunderhorn; his later symphonies are much more ambitious, very Brucknerian in their scope.

What is also important to remember is that the fifth was the first major work Mahler composed after his marriage, and that his wife Alma provided some technical support, sometimes doing the full orchestration of significant passages with only sparse indications on her hurband’s manuscripts – at least, this is what she claimed in her memoirs.

Structurally, the work is in five movements, though Mahler liked to think of it in three parts, with the scherzo (third movement) sandwiched between two parts (formed by the first two and final two movements, respectfully). The fourth movement Adagietto may be Mahler's most famous composition and is the most frequently performed of his works; It is said to represent Mahler's love song to his wife Alma. Leonard Bernstein conducted it during the funeral Mass for Robert F. Kennedy at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Manhattan, on 8 June 1968, and it was used in the 1971 Luchino Visconti film Death in Venice.

The reviews I have read of this performance are mixed, but I’d like to point out that Kubelik’s Mahler set shouldn’t be judged solely on the individual performances standing alone, but rather in the context of the entire cycle. I find that Kubelik’s approach is sincere and the play of the orchestra – and of the trumpet soloist in particular – is superb. I remain quite partial to this rendition – I hope you will agree!
Happuy Listening!

Gustav MAHLE (1860-1911)
Symphony no. 5 in C-Sharp Minor (1901-02)
Symphonie-Orchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Rafael Kubelik, conducting
Deutsche Grammophon ‎– 2543 535
Format: Vinyl, LP
Released: 1983 (Original recording, 1971)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Threatre of the Mind

No. 282 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


This week's Blog and Podcast revisits a topic I discussed and illustrated on a Tuesday Blog back in October of 2012. Here are the musings I used at that time, adapted for this week's montage.

The music selections I chose to explore today are, in a sense, speculative works – that is to say, works written (one could think) in anticipation of a stage work. All of the pieces I chose are intended either to depict stage music, or suggest stage music, whilst not necessarily designed to accompany any specific stage work – other, maybe, than the type of stage performance, be it a theatrical play, a ballet or an opera.

Let’s start with the opera selection. Canadian composer Alexina Louie is both fairly prolific and has shown throughout her work a keen sense of imagination. The work she composed as a commission for the French contemporary Ensemble Court-Circuit is a work that provides both the flow and texture of opera with the Far-Eastern flair that betrays Ms. Louie’s ancestry. An escellent description of the piece is provided by Ms Louie as notes to her score at the Canadian Music Centre.

Ballet seems to be a popular subject for “imagined” stage music. I chose works by England’s Samuel Coledridge-Taylor and Canada’s André Mathieu that could very well have been used to accompany both traditional and contemporary dance choreographies.

In the theatrical genre, a pair of works by two composers who produced their fair share of stage music. Canada’s Healey Willan contributed to well over 40 stage works of all kinds (The Beggar's Opera, Brébeuf Deirdre, many stage works for Hart House Theatre, etc.). His Overture for an Unwritten Comedy was written for a CBC 1940’s radio talent competition Opportunity Knocks.

Aaron Copland also made his fair share of stage and film music contributions: The Tender Land, stage and film version s of plays by John Steinbeck and others. His Music of the Theatre and the Piano Concerto (1926) were both composed for and given their first performance by legendary Boston Symphony conductor, Serge Koussevitzky.

I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Scherchen/Haydn - Four More London Symphonies

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Almost a year ago, I shared a series of Joseph Haydn's London symphonies from a 1950s MONO collection, under the baton of Hermann Scherchen.

Scherchen was musically self-taught. Early in his career, he played viola, and for a time he accompanied Arnold Schoenberg on tour. Interned in Russia during the First World War, he returned to Berlin after the war and founded in 1918 the Neue Musikgesellschaft ("Society for New Music"). In 1933, he fled Germany for Belgium, where he was publisher of Musica viva (1933-36), and conducted in Spain, France and elsewhere in Europe during and after the Second World War; he made his American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1964.

Scherchen collaborated with avant-garde composers by presenting their works on record and in concert. He recorded with orchestras of Vienna, London and Paris and devoted special attention to the works of Baroque and classical masters in addition to contemporary voices.

You will find the complete collection of the twelve London symphonies as well as some other selections from Scherchen's near-complete Haydn cycle on the Italian website LiberMusica.

Happy Listening!

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 93 in D Major, Hob.I:93

Symphony No. 99 in E-Flat Major, Hob.I:99

Symphony No. 100 in G Major, Hob.I:100 « Military » (*)

Symphony No. 101 in D Major, Hob.I:101 «The Clock »

Wiener Staatsopernorchester
Wiener Symphoniker (*)
Hermann Scherchen, conducting

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